Jefferson case grew out of stalker fears
by Bruce Alpert, Washington bureau, The Times-Picayune
Sunday August 02, 2009, 10:00 PM
ALEXANDRIA, VA -- The jury in the William Jefferson corruption case begins a third day of deliberations Monday in a case that began four years and five months ago when Virginia businesswoman Lori Mody met with FBI agents and agreed to wear a wire to secretly record conversations with the then congressman.
More details of what brought Mody to meet with FBI agents have recently emerged, from the testimony of FBI agent Timothy Thibault during the six-week trial and also from interviews with several friends and associates who worked with Mody at her educational foundation, Win-Win Strategies.
Any discussion of what brought Mody to the FBI has to begin with a chance encounter Mody had in January 2005 with Bruce Bowman, a former Green Beret and educator. Bowman was a friend of Mody's who had put her on the board of his school mentoring program and was disturbed to hear Mody say she was worried about her safety, according to two separate accounts of their meeting.
At the time, Mody had told friends she was missing meetings of her educational foundation because she feared that she and her three children were being stalked. Bowman told her he knew someone who might be able to help: Paul Viollis, a New York City security expert he knew through business dealings and participation in an e-mail Christian fellowship group.
Viollis, whose firm, Risk Control Strategies, does security work for major corporations, agreed to work with Mody as a personal favor to Bowman.
His firm soon provided bodyguards who accompanied Mody wherever she went. In a taped conversation with Jefferson in May 2005, she said that the security gave her peace of mind, although some of her friends thought she was being taken advantage of and paying for extensive security usually reserved for top political leaders.
"The other thing, which continues to bother me, and I confess this to you, you know, one on one, is that you know, there was someone stalking me," Mody told Jefferson over dinner. "They're still doing it. I haven't made them go away. That's why I don't travel without security. . . . So I take somebody with me and then I don't care."
But Viollis' firm was doing more than providing security. According to foundation staffers and Mody friends, he also brought in accountants to evaluate the books of her foundation, and her investments, which at the time were being handled by Brett Pfeffer, a former Jefferson aide.
"They went through all the computer hard drives and all the accounts and found things that didn't add up, making it look that Mody was being defrauded," said a Mody friend who asked not to be identified because he isn't authorized to speak on her behalf.
After the audit, Pfeffer was escorted out of the Win-Win Strategies Office in Tyson's Corner, Va., by Risk Strategies security agents.
Ex-agent tipped FBI
Soon thereafter, Viollis contacted a partner, a former FBI agent, who in turn discussed the case with friends at FBI headquarters in Washington, according to the testimony of Thibault, the FBI agent who headed the Jefferson investigation. The discussions led to a meeting with FBI agents near Mody's Virginia foundation in early March 2005, Thibault said.
Jefferson's attorneys say that, instead of complaining about the then-congressman, Mody said she believed she had been defrauded by Pfeffer, whom she had hired at a $700,000 annual salary to advise her on investments, and Vernon Jackson, the CEO of iGate Inc., a Kentucky technology firm. Mody had provided $3.5 million to help finance a planned iGate telecommunications project in Nigeria.
She told agents she didn't believe Jackson had used the money to secure licenses required to move the Nigerian project forward.
But when Mody told agents about Jefferson's involvement -- the Justice Department says the congressman promoted iGate technology in return for payments and iGate stock to a firm controlled by his wife and children -- the agents' ears perked up. Thibault said they asked her if she would be willing to wear a wire and she quickly agreed.
It was Mody who -- during conversations with the congressman, some over long dinners, with lots of wine -- suggested he bring a female staff member along on a trip to Ghana, that he get a larger percentage in the company she was forming in Nigeria to implement the iGate project, and that a $100,000 payment to the vice president of Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar, might facilitate needed Nigerian approvals. All are listed in the Justice Department's 16-count indictment against Jefferson.
Judge T.S. Ellis III, who is presiding over the case, has said, mostly outside the hearing of the jury, that since Jefferson isn't offering an entrapment defense, Mody's encouragement of allegedly illegal activity isn't sufficient to clear him.
The FBI, with five separate cameras, recorded the transfer from Mody of a briefcase with $100,000 in cash, $90,000 of which was later found in the freezer of Jefferson's Washington, D.C., home.
After the transfer of the briefcase with the FBI money, the jury heard a tape recording of Mody asking him: "Would you like to take a peek?"
"No, I would not," Jefferson replied.
Mody didn't testify during the trial, and federal prosecutors haven't said why. Friends and associates, who asked not be identified because Mody hasn't authorized them to speak on her behalf, said they've not had contact with her since her role in the probe was first revealed -- several months after Jefferson's homes and car were raided by FBI agents on Aug. 3, 2005.
In 2006, Jackson and Pfeffer pleaded guilty to bribery-related charges. Jackson was sentenced to seven years, three months; Pfeffer received eight years.
Both testified in prison jumpsuits at Jefferson's trial -- testimony they hope will lead the Justice Department to recommend that they be released early.
Although Mody didn't make an appearance at the trial, her family members attended court sessions in which her role was discussed by witnesses, including Jackson and Pfeffer.
Bruce Alpert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.383.7861.